A personal blog of Rhone Fraser devoted to EDIFYING, intellectual discussion of provocative books, current events, and people.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
My Review of Philippe Niang's film "Toussaint L'Ouverture"
Today is August 14, 2014. On this day about two hundred twenty three years ago, the Haitian revolution began. This is my review of Philippe Niang's amazing film that is pushing the envelope in terms of presenting more realistic portrayals of the kind of Black men and women that worked for liberation from race, class, and psychological oppression. I first saw this film on June 2, 2013 in Philadelphia, thanks to the brilliance of filmmaker Nadine Patterson. This review is my homage to the spirit of the Haitian revolution. L'UNION FAIT LA FORCE!!! -RF.
This is a review of the 2012 French film Toussaint L’Ouverture written by Phillippe Niang, Alain Foix, and Sandro Agenor. This film is reviewed mainly in the context of three works: C.L.R. James’ seminal 1938 Marxist history of the Haitian revolution The Black Jacobins, Jacob Carruthers’ African-centered history of the revolution published in 1985 called The Irritated Genie, and most recently, Madison Smartt Bell’s 2008 biography Toussaint L’Ouverture. This review is meant to critically analyze scenes of a film about Toussaint L’Ouverture in order to get a more truthful look at the influential political and military leader. In comparing these perspectives of James, Carruthers, and Bell, this review compares Marxist, African-centered, and contemporary mainstream interpretations, respectively, of Toussaint L’Ouverture and the event of the Haitian revolution. This review will examine aspects of the film most relevant to aspects of each of these histories. It will also discuss the film the context of influential African American thinkers since the revolution like abolitionist Frederick Douglass and literary editor Pauline Hopkins in order to connect the memory of Toussaint with more recent interpretations.
The story of Toussaint’s life is told in this film from his perspective, not as he is telling it to a fellow revolutionary, but as he is telling it in a remote French prison to a military interrogator named Pasquier. The film begins after Toussaint and his family have been kidnapped from the island colony of Saint Domingue by the French for their revolutionary influence. Toussaint’s narrative in this film to Pasquier is a series of flashbacks that respond to Pasquier’s specific questions. Toussaint’s narrative is very compromised because he is telling his life in a way that, in order to preserve his life, must privilege the French perspective. Pasquier uses letters from his wife and sons as an incentive to get him to talk. The version of Toussaint’s life that he tells to Pasquier must placate the same authorities that are imprisoning him, in order to read the letters from his family. James writes that while in prison Toussaint’s chief concern was the fate of his wife and children (364). The difference between what Toussaint tells the interrogator and what the film audience sees in his flashbacks is not clear. What is clear is that the story of the film follows the questions that Pasquier poses to Toussaint, not the other way around, which favors a more conciliatory version of Toussaint. Pasquier’s career hangs on the success of retrieving, under military orders, specific information from Toussaint, namely the location of a prized war chest, that he was believed to have hidden somewhere in Saint Domingue. Pasquier asks Toussaint how old he was when he was sold to a Mr. Breda, manager of the Breda sugar plantation, and he has his first flashback about his father. He said he wished he could swim. Pasquier is confused by this response. The audience learns in this first flashback, set in a slave auction, that Toussaint said he wished he could swim because his father was deemed too worthless by a slave auctioneer and was pushed into the ocean while in shackles. The film shows Toussaint as a child, running after his father. Bayon de Libertat, a plantation manager at this auction, immediately notices the attachment between this child and his father and, sympathetically, buys the father and the son. The auctioneer seeking maximum profit, says that if Bayon buys the boy Toussaint, he must buy his sister Marie-Ange as well. Bayon agrees. Toussaint, his sister and father is sold to Bayon who is manager of Breda plantation, making him Toussaint Breda. The story in the film is fast forwarded at least twenty years. By this time, Toussaint is a successful coachman on the Breda plantation and a protégé of Bayon. One day he leaves the countryside of the Breda plantation on a horse carriage to the Port-au-Prince docks, to pick up a friend of Breda, a Jesuit priest, who lends him a book Histoire Des Deux Indes (Philosophical and Political History of the Establishments and Commerce of the Europeans in the Two Indies) by Abbé Raynal. James writes that Toussaint read and re-read this text that gave him “a grounding in the politics not only in Saint Domingue, but also all of the great empires of Europe” (91). A probing question in this text was: “A courageous chief only is wanted. Where is he?” The film suggests that by this time Toussaint saw himself as the “courageous chief” of a slave colony to slaves seeking freedom. It suggests that he gained power and influence by his literacy. For Toussaint, reading is the opportunity not only for abolition, but also the opportunity for a love interest. When Toussaint picks up the priest, his eye catches the beauty of a market woman whom he tries to converse with. As she approaches him, in order to look studious, he feigns reading the book the priest gave him. When the market woman approaches, she laughs, and turns the book right side up, exposing his folly. Toussaint gets to know this market woman named Suzanne, who tells him she had a baby with a white Frenchman in order to learn how to read. The film shows Suzanne as a woman who is able to use her ability to read to advance her status in society and put herself in a position where she can help a man who would become an incredibly influential leader. James writes that Toussaint married a woman who already had a son: “she bore Toussaint one child, and he and his wife lived together in the greatest harmony and friendship, when he was master of all San Domingo just as in the days when he was just an ordinary slave” (92). The film shows that Toussaint and Suzanne did not in fact live together in the “greatest harmony” however they did share a long relationship.
The priest that Toussaint picks up meets Bayon and encourages him to set an example to other French planters by freeing his slaves. The film gives the impression that Toussaint hearing this conversation had some idea about his own possibilities of being free. Bayon tells this priest that Toussaint was his best coachman, and Toussaint uses this information to buy his own freedom. Toussaint tells Pasquier that he read about Abbe Raynal, but Pasquier is less interested in the role that reading played in Toussaint’s life. He asks him when exactly Bayon freed Toussaint. In a following scene, Breda holds a gathering on his plantation to celebrate the production of three hundred tons of sugar. To celebrate this production, Bayon announces to his elite company that he will grant Toussaint his freedom. Toussaint tells young Moyse, the son of his sister Marie Ange, that he will be free one day. The film has Toussaint pursue this logical trajectory of asserting his rights by telling Bayon that not only should he be free, but that Bayon owes him money. Bayon is mortified and refuses. He introduces Toussaint to another planter new to Saint Domingue, Joseph, and tells Toussaint to familiarize him with the Saint Domingue landowning routine. A young Moyse runs to Toussaint about his mother Marie-Ange who is on her death bed after being raped by French sailors. However according to James, Moyse was “carried across the Atlantic,” which would have been impossible if he was born to a mother that was sold in Saint Domingue on a plantation on this island at the age of a child (147). The scene of Marie-Ange on her death bed is a creative liberty on the part of the writers that was certainly plausible because of the dehumanizing treatment of Black women commonplace at that time, but it is not plausible if James’s account of Moyse being born in Africa is correct. One of James’s many sources he uses to write his history are primary documents from the National Archives of France, even though he admits to not examining them exhaustively. Of the three histories of the Haitian Revolution, James’s is the most exhaustive.
Suzanne arrives at the funeral of Marie-Ange and is pursued by Toussaint who, despite the occasion, proposes a relationship with her. Toussaint tells Pasquier that he is in prison at the wish of Napoleon Bonaparte, and not the people. In a next flashback, Toussaint, Bayon and his fellow planters stroll through the Port-au-Prince market and witness a parade of white French in an obvious race riot celebrating the murder of free Blacks. The severed heads of Blacks were placed on top of sticks and paraded this stick through the town market. By this time in the early 1790s, the mulatto class in French Saint Domingue were following the pattern set by white revolutionaries against the monarchy in France, by fighting the French upper classes for the right to be represented in the French Assembly. James writes about the tremendous repression against mulattoes and Blacks (gens de couleur et les noirs) in Saint Domingue trying to assert these rights. He quotes a wealthy planter Marquis de Caradeu who “has made fifty heads fly on the Aubry Plantation…and in order that everybody should know about it, had them fired on pikes along the hedges of his plantation, palm tree fashion” (82). In addition, “the Colonial Assembly stuck the heads of Negroes on pikes all along the roads leading to Le Cap“(96). The film is faithful to show this kind of repression and the effect it has on a newly emancipated Toussaint. While observing a parade of these severed heads, Toussaint himself is beaten and has his life threatened by an angry white mob. A young Moyse learns of this attack on his uncle Toussaint and vows revenge on whites who attacked free Blacks in Port-Au-Prince. The film is historically accurate in the historic 1791 ceremony at Bois Caiman, a ceremony credited by Carruthers as being “more than a summation of the historical experience of the Blacks on the island of Santo Domingo and indeed the diaspora in general.” Carruthers called this meeting an “evocation…of the Vodou spirit Ogun, the God of War” (22). This August 1791 Bois-Caiman ceremony is deemed important by many histories of the Haitian Revolution for its recorded practice of Vodou rituals. It was unquestionably the rallying call of the enslaved who, after this ceremony, commenced to burning plantations in pursuit of the end of slavery, or what the laborers called in Haitian kreyol, “libété.” Bell’s history is the only one among the three that asks the question of whether Toussaint actually participated in this 1791 Vodou ceremony. James’ history focuses on the spiritual leader of this ceremony Boukman whom he quotes directly. Part of James’ exact quote of Boukman is exactly what we hear Boukman say in the film:
“The god of the white man inspires him with crime, but our god calls upon us to do good works. Our god who is good to us orders us to revenge our wrongs. He will direct our arms and aid us. Throw away the symbol of the god of the whites who has so often caused us to weep, and listen to the voice of liberty, which speaks in the hearts of us all” (87).
In the film, Toussaint is seen as an observer of this historic Vodou ceremony, not as a participant. Carruthers’ history of the Haitian revolution is grounded in specifically Boukman’s call to arms. He writes that when Boukman was exhorting the countless enslaved at this ceremony, he was “setting forth the first principle of Black revolutionary commitment which had inspired the historic rebellion on the island.” This first principle for Carruthers is to reject he white god which “inspires one to get as high on the pyramid of power and wealth as possible” (23). Carruthers later calls this pyramid the “phantom of liberty” because it is the illusion of liberty that ultimately blocks the kind of revolutionary commitment necessary for Black freedom. It is this principle of revolutionary commitment that Toussaint ultimately betrayed according to Carruthers. While he nor James addressed the question of whether Toussaint attended this ceremony in their histories, the film forcefully answers this question in the affirmative. We see Toussaint at this ceremony being a silent observer at Bois Caiman. We see a woman named Fatimah who cuts a pig and takes its blood and presents it as a sacrifice to the Ogun, Vodoun god of war. Toussaint eventually cannot avoid being noticed, however. He is confronted at this ceremony by a military rival, Georges Biassou, who demands that if he really cared about Boukman’s message, he would kill Bayon, his former owner. Toussaint refuses, and Biassou calls him a traitor to the revolutionary cause, aims and points his gun at Toussaint’s head, ready to shoot. However when Biassou pulls the trigger, he shoots a blank. The blank shot catches the attention of Boukman, who after this shot, concludes that the Vodoun god of the gates, Papa Legba, protects Toussaint. The film shows how Toussaint is recognized after Bois Caiman as a spiritual leader before a military leader. This role as an observer enabled him to gain and develop the trust of powerful whites that he used eventually to command armies that would fight European armies for abolition. It also enabled him to be seen by Blacks like Boukman and Biassou as a presence who is spiritually protected and who should thereby be respected. This is a very wise creative liberty on the part of the writing team. It showed him as part of the early revolt of the revolution, without being completely involved in it. Jacob Carruthers dates the “first recorded major violent slave revolt on Haiti” as early as 1522 (xiii). When Pasquier the interrogator then asks him why he attended the 1791 ceremony at Bois Caiman, he replies that God sent him. This underscores John Hope Franklin’s point in From Slavery to Freedom that African religious practices emboldened the revolts of the enslaved. The spiritual ceremony that recognized the Vodou gods such as Erzulie was a necessary precursor to the military success and completion of the Haitian revolution. After this meeting, the enslaved execute their plan of raiding and setting fire to nearby plantations. Carruthers writes that “as terror spread, the women, children, and as many Black slaves as could be found and herded up were put on board ships and the able bodied white men tried to mobilize for battle” (27). Toussaint then rushes to warn the whites on plantations friendly to Bayon’s that they should leave in order to escape this raid. The film includes scenes of Toussaint helping the same planter family Bayon instructed him to help onto a boat to leave their plantation that the growing raid is now threatening. Specifically, he brings a pair of white women to Suzanne who treats their wounds. Grand-Riviere is where Toussaint tells Bayon the raid is headed. Catherine who witnesses the enslaved leaving Bois-Caiman is apparently unable to distinguish Toussaint from the other Blacks at Bois-Caiman. She cannot discern the helpful role he played in her and other whites’ lives and tells Bayon that Toussaint is a threat who supported the raid on plantations that followed the ceremony. While it was true that Toussaint supported the raid, it is not true that he wanted Bayon and plantation owners dead. The film shows how Toussaint was indeed an anomaly in the privileged white mind like Catherine’s. He was not a simple brute hungry for white blood, nor was a simple collaborator with the French planter class. He curried favor and respect from both sides before his military campaigns.
From Boukman’s dead body, a Vodou priestess named Fatimah retrieves a white bracelet, which comes to symbolize in the film the revolutionary spirit of the Haitian Revolution. In the next scene, Fatimah gives the bracelet to Toussaint and warns him, that losing the bracelet will abandon the revolutionary cause he is fighting for. Biassou asks Toussaint if he would join them. He then says to his now wife Suzanne that instead of placing her near the front lines of battle that would now undertake with the French Army, he would send her with his nephew, Moise, to live in San Rafael. She assents, but Moise desperately wants to join his uncle in alongside the French with Biassou. Toussaint refuses until Moise becomes the first to inform his uncle that the Spanish is recruiting soldiers to fight the French. Carruthers’ history facetiously called the Spanish recruitment of French soldiers a “rescue…by another group of European saviors” (37). It was this recruitment that would begin Toussaint’s reputation as a powerful military leader. In the next scene in France in a hotel outside of Toussaint’s prison, French General Caffarelli seeks an update from Pasquier on his interrogation of Toussaint. We see here exactly how subordinate Pasquier is to Caffarelli who insists that Pasquier must do whatever he can, short of murder, to get from Toussaint the location of the war chest that Bonaparte wants so desperately. Bell gives the most extensive details into the impasse Caffarelli felt when interrogating Toussaint: “despite his weakness, illness, and all the pressure Caffarelli could bring to bear on him, Toussaint said ‘nothing except what he wanted to say’”(280). Toussaint’s dignity, played sternly by Jimmy Jean-Louis, also conveys this message in the film. Caffarelli wanted Toussaint to disclose the location of the material treasure he thought Toussaint had, and pressures Pasquier to get him to disclose the location of this imagined prize. The film shows how the Toussaint depended on the benevolence of the French military for survival. The film takes a creative liberty by focusing the story away from Caffarelli and towards Caffarelli’s assigned subordinate in Pasquier.
Since joining forces with Biassou, Toussaint seizes the military opportunity to feign support for the Spanish Army against the French until he can collect arms to fight both European forces in order to achieve abolition, or “libété.” However as Toussaint becomes more popular, Biassou soon resents him and his influence. The film depicts Biassou as a drunk with gaudy jewelry, and unfit for the ideal military leadership that Toussaint would exhibit. The film shows that part of Toussaint’s high moral character that made him fit for military leadership was his abstinence from alcohol, sexual promiscuity, and materialism in general. Carruthers writes that Toussaint “proclaimed against prostitution, idleness, indolence and the wearing of gaudy jewelry” (50). The film’s depiction of Biassou shows him a champion of these same things. This is why when Moise drinks alcohol, Toussaint snatches it out of his hands, telling him if he wants to command, he cannot drink. Toussaint tells Pasquier that the French thought their sending Sonthonax would successfully quell the growing revolution, but the film shows how Sonthonax’s high expectations were soon dashed once he reached Saint Domingue. The film shows French planters on the coast of Saint Domingue booing at Sonthonax after he has promised abolition. James writes that Sonthonax was as fierce an enemy as any Black laborer, and that it was his legislation in favor of the Blacks that was driving more conservative French colonials mad (185, 192). Both James and the film deal with the strain that Sonthonax was under in having to manage both the laborers demanding an end to slavery and the conservative French government who were enduring their own internal revolution. Laveaux and Sonthonax talk about Toussaint’s growing influence. André Rigaud enters the film and, by this time, has built an army of mulattoes in Saint Domingue, seeking their own specific racial allegiance to France that would be closer and stronger than those of Toussaint’s darker hue. Sonthonax orders Rigaud and Laveaux to capture Toussaint. Their armies surround Toussaint’s camp in the next scene. The first military battle in the film shows Toussaint attacking the armies of Rigaud and Laveaux in what seems to be a military draw. When Toussaint confronts Rigaud personally and asks him if he hates Blacks, Rigaud replies that he hates anyone that despises him. The film raises the very real hostilities between Blacks and mulattoes on the colony. James writes about another commissioner that France sends to quell the revolution who followed Sonthonax but who is not in the film, General Hedouville. Bell writes that he lasts “less than one year in Saint Domingue,”presumably due to his especially contentious relationship with the now powerful Toussaint (165). For James, Hedouville’s prime offenses include his attack on Toussaint’s nephew Moise who was a very beloved leader among laborers. But most offensive was Hedouville’s deliberate creation of hostility between the lead Black military leader in Toussaint, and the lead mulatto military leader in Rigaud. According to James, Hedouville wrote Rigaud a letter “absolving him from all obedience to Toussaint and authorizing him to take possession of the districts of Leogane and Jacmel.” James found this conduct by Hedouville absolutely reprehensible, calling him “a subversive enemy of society” (223). He would probably welcome his absence from a film on Toussaint. After his conflict with Rigaud, Toussaint tells Biassou that he won’t fight for amnesty but for full freedom. Rigaud says that if Toussaint plans to free Blacks, he will block those plans. Certainly French colonials like Hedouville were successful in stoking the fire between Rigaud and Toussaint that could have been used for abolition. Following his military successes, Toussaint in the film discovers a priest kneeling and praying, and converses with him, discovering that the French King Louis the XVI is dead. Toussaint questions how a people can kill their king. Toussaint was aware of the strong role that the Spanish King played in the same Spanish Army that he was at this time fighting for. By this time, military leaders like Toussaint knew the importance of this King in supplying the arms, the food, and the laborers, except Toussaint as a military leader would take his leadership one step further. He would train his army to turn against the same European forces that armed them, and demand abolition. Toussaint argues successfully with Biassou that the Black laborers they are leading should fight on the side of the Spanish instead of the French in order to gain more control of arms and military power. This was Toussaint’s winning military strategy. In the film, the King of Spain Hermona initially designates Toussaint’s rival Biassou to be in charge of this Black delegation, but Toussaint demonstrates to Hermona his military expertise. He implores the Spanish general to let those who are defeated by his military to live, in order to, conceivably, fight on behalf of the Spanish Army. Hermona seems to have no other alternative but to make Toussaint the military leader. Bell writes that Toussaint preferred “throughout his whole career, to win whenever possible through diplomacy rather than force of arms” (91). Literary editor of the Boston-based Colored American Magazine, Pauline Hopkins writes that all of Toussaint’s influence “was on the side of mercy” (15). Instead of killing laborers and using murder to intimidate those that have not been killed, Toussaint relies on their presence to join the Spanish Army to the irony of the French. Eventually Toussaint trains them, to the irony of the Spanish, to fight no longer for the Spanish King, but against the Spanish, French, British, and all for “libété.” As the Spanish arm more laborers who join the army under the command of Toussaint, Toussaint writes new French General Etienne Laveaux offering to join the French only if the French would recognize the liberty of all Blacks.
We return to Pasquier who, by now in his interrogation, is flustered by Toussaint’s reasons for joining the Spanish Army and is convinced that they paid him. Laveaux then asks him why he joined the Spanish. The film shows how both Pasquier and Laveaux, as white Frenchmen, are unable to understand Toussaint’s logic in joining the Spanish Army. When Toussaint gives Laveaux a politically correct answer to his question, his nephew Moise asks him why he does not tell Laveaux that he’s fighting for Black freedom. Toussaint replies with what seems an incomplete English translation from the French creole: “more haste, less speed.” Sonthonax realized and practiced, perhaps more than any French commissioner sent to Saint Domingue, that Saint Domingue is lost to the English without Toussaint’s army. When Suzanne demands more attention from Toussaint from his military exploits, he tells her about his important work and how because of it, the French promises to abolish slavery. She remains skeptical. Laveaux tries to convince Toussaint that the Spanish will not abolish slavery. To avoid murder, Bayon asks Catherine to join him in America but she says she cannot abandon the land of her late husband Joseph who in the film was killed in the raid following the Bois Caiman ceremony. Laveaux, steps behind Toussaint at this point, gives Sonthonax a flyer calling for slaves to join the French Army. James writes that Toussaint’s method of being able to publish was the usual one of mystery (265). Sonthonax asks Rigaud and Laveaux how they would let a former slave defeat them. By 1794, Toussaint had an army of at least fourteen hundred men. And it was growing. Lorraine Hansberry, in her screenplay on Toussaint, writes Toussaint saying: “Europeans will be fighting free men thinking they are fighting slaves, and again and again—that will be their undoing” (Hansberry, To Be Young, Gifted And Black, 138). The film shows the alarming degree to which Sonthonax and Laveaux underestimated a Toussaint who, no doubt felt betrayed by them, when they would not recognize him as leader of a powerfully growing army. The suspense of the film is heightened when Toussaint sees that his home was raided and his wife kidnapped. He believes that the Spanish military leader Marquis D’Hermona betrayed him, only to discover that the raiders and kidnappers were Biassou and his supporters. The first half of the film ends with him noticing his family jailed by Biassou. The second half of the film begins with Toussaint telling Pasquier that Biassou went mad. James writes that by 1796, Toussaint was the only person in the North region of Saint Domingue whom the laborers could be depended on to obey. Toussaint in this year was also able to stop a mulatto coup that threatened to kill Laveaux (J, 170). When he confronts Biassou, he claims that Hermona told him to capture Toussaint’s family but the film lends more credence to Biassou’s individual jealousy as the cause for the attack on Toussaint. James writes that “Biassou was a faire eater, always drunk, always ready for the fiercest and most dangerous exploits” (93). Toussaint confronts Hermona in a church and accuses him of trying to assassinate him. Hermona is promptly offended, and orders his forces to attack Toussaint. His forces point guns at Toussaint and lead him out of the church. As they leave the church, Hermona and his forces are overwhelmed by Toussaint’s soldiers who point their guns and are ready to kill Hermona. Yet Toussaint displays his military power by ordering his army to draw down their guns, and they spare Hermona’s life. Bell writes that D’Hermona admired Toussaint to the point of declaring, “If God were to descend to earth, he could inhabit no purer heart than that of Toussaint L’Ouverture” (93). Later, Pasquier gives Toussaint a letter from his older son of Suzanne’s, Placide. Pasquier asked Toussaint why he left the Spanish to rejoin the French. We see that Toussaint’s growing military power was a result of his sensitivity to the laboring class, who saw him as a compassionate leader who will, in Moise’s words, fight uncompromisingly for Black freedom. Laveaux makes fighting for the French Army more attractive to Toussaint by making him a general. Caffarelli orders Pasquier to give Toussaint one meal a day, and accuses Pasquier of being too sympathetic to Toussaint. He gives him exactly one week to get the information about the treasure. He steals a gun from Pasquier that Pasquier took from Toussaint. We see in a flashback that Toussaint received this gun at a ceremony thrown for Toussaint by Sonthonax to celebrate Toussaint’s promotion in the French Army to the rank of General. By this time, Toussaint and his army had a uniquely strong relationships with the English and the Americans, both of who were vying for control of Saint Domingue. But, Bell writes, Toussaint and his command over his incredibly strong army, would not let British and American naval protection tempt him to a Declaration of Independence from France, because only France had abolished slavery, while Britain and the U.S. showed no sign of doing so any time soon. Trade with the U.S. was essential for Saint Domingue’s survival, according to Bell, and British naval acquiescence was essential to that trade. Bell writes that some American and British ships had more privilege in the French colony’s ports than the ships of France herself (173). That trade included arms. The film does not show the strategically strong relationships Toussaint built with the British and the Americans. It does show how French officials Laveaux and Sonthonax tried to corral Toussaint’s growing military power by making him a French general and allowing him residence in a French mansion. Carruthers writes that Toussaint “strove to be a part of a French dominion of ‘liberty and equality’” and that with Toussaint as governor, “the racial hierarchy remained pretty much as it was” before Toussaint was governor (49, 50). James on the other hand found Toussaint’s governorship more fair, and one that “balanced between the classes…his was rooted in the preservation of the interests of the laboring poor” (247). Unlike James, Carruthers unquestionably finds Toussaint’s governorship problematic because of how preserved the French hierarchy and its uncritical subjection of African people. The offer of a French military position and a lush French mansion is part of what Carruthers has described as the “phantom of liberty” that ultimately duped Toussaint and caused him to betray his revolutionary commitment. James claims that Toussaint “never had any illusions about European civilization conferring any moral superiority” on whites whereas for Carruthers, this was part of Toussaint’s problem, that he tried to fit into this hierarchical civilization rather than heed the call of Boukman to fundamentally rearrange it (270). This is what makes James’ Marxist analysis limiting is its privileging this bourgeois perspective that ultimately betrays the revolutionary cause. In her posthumous play Les Blancs, Lorraine Hansberry’s Hamlet-like character Tshembe who understands the revolutionary cause but is afraid to undertake it talks with a Peter, a devoted revolutionary, fighting English colonial settlers in Hansberry’s fictional African nation of Zatembe. Peter tries to convince Tshembe that Amos Kumalo, the leader of their ethnic group Kwi that the British chooses to recognize, has become nothing more than a mere puppet mainly because of the material trappings provided by the English:
TSHEMBE: Amos Kumalo is no puppet—
PETER: No, of course not. But will he control the Army? The mines? His own ministers? (Shaking his head) A government office…a government car…a white government secretary to warm his bed—“who fears the lion after his teeth are pulled?” No Tshembe. When we drive out the invader, we will have peace. Only then (Hansberry, Les Blancs, 97).
The film shows how the French’s offer of a scholarship for his sons and his palatial mansions were ways that the French were proverbially pulling the teeth of Toussaint in order to make him less effective by giving him the material luxuries of a mansion. The film shows how Sonthonax tries to counter his growing influence, by offering a scholarship to Toussaint’s two sons, Isaac and Placide to attend French schools. Bell writes that the costs were assumed by the French government (140).
In a scene with Pasquier, Toussaint tells him that the British lost tens of thousands of troops in their battles with his forces. While we do not see direct battle scenes between Toussaint’s forces and the British in ways that we saw his forces fight the French, we see the dead bodies of British soldiers in a waterfall. This scene confirms the success of Toussaint as a military leader who stood uncompromisingly for abolition in Saint Domingue. This success was confirmed by two letters that Bell mentioned: one from Toussaint to his then military subordinate Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and another from French General Emmanuel Leclerc to Napoleon. Bell writes that in a February 7, 1802 letter to Dessalines, Toussaint wrote:
“Consider that the land bathed with our sweat must not furnish our enemies the least nourishment. Jam up all the roads, throw horses and corpses into all the springs; have everything burned an annihilated, so that those who come to return us to slavery will always have before them the image of the hell that they deserve” (236).
About eight months later in an October 7, 1802 letter, Lecerc writes to Napoleon about Saint Domingue:
“I have always served you with devotion…but I cannot resign myself to stay on here next summer. Since I have been here I have had nothing but the spectacle of fires, insurrections, assassinations, the dead and the dying. My soul is shriveled, no mirthful idea can make me forget these hideous scenes” (269).
The “hideous scenes” that Toussaint instructed Dessalines to produce did in fact startle the French General Leclerc and dissuaded them from the colonial slavery that the French and other Europeans were trying to maintain. By showing the strewn dead bodies of British soldiers in a stream, this film was giving its audience a taste of the hideous scenes meant to dissuade those Europeans trying to restore slavery on Saint Domingue. Toussaint successfully defeated all European powers by this method. James wrote that “for the British the drain of men and money was too great…All Toussaint wanted was that [British General] Maitland leave Saint Domingue” (200). In C.L.R. James’ words, Toussaint had successfully defeated all European powers because of:
“the decree of abolition, the bravery of the Blacks, and the ability of their leaders…he [Toussaint] knew theFrench, British and Spanish imperialists for the insatiable gangsters that they were, that there is no oath too sacred for them to break, no crime, no deception, treachery, cruelty, destruction of human life and property which they would not commit against those who could not defend themselves” (214, 271).
The “scene of horror” of dead bodies is a glimpse of the enormous degree that Toussaint and his Army would go to defend “libété.” In a church in the next scene, Toussaint promises to return whites to their plantation. Catherine replied in protest that Toussaint was responsible for making her son an orphan. She is a character who is unable to see any Blacks who desire freedom as capable allies of her. Toussaint jars Catherine’s racial perception that conflated Toussaint for all the raiders at Bois Caiman, and tells her that he did not murder her husband. He was trying to save him, but failed. Mars Plaisir eventually convinces Toussaint to let him be his personal assistant. James writes that Mars Plaisir was a mulatto and that such a choice of a mulatto as an assistant was “typical of Toussaint.” James refers here to Toussaint’s consistent policy of reconciliation with mulattoes. The film does not show Mars Plaisir as a mulatto but as Black. Toussaint approaches Catherine in her home playing piano, and tells her that he wants to restore her husband’s plantation. Moise observes this exchange, leaves unnoticed and angered. Pasquier tells his lover, Louise, who runs a hotel with her mother, La Mere Coulinge, that his interrogation of Toussaint will determine whether he gets a position at the Prefecture.
Following Toussaint’s promotion to a General in the French Army, the film shows how, after the elimination of the French, English, and Spanish, Toussaint now decides how to run the former colony. He is committed to maintaining the economy that produces sugar and coffee. He promises to pay workers rather than continue slavery. In the film he is shown on horseback on a sugar plantation whipping a laborer cutting cane, for not working fast enough. The film shows how his policy of continuing a plantation economy was a vexing and controversial decision for Toussaint. The significant difference for Black laborers was that they were now, with Toussaint as leader, paid for their labor. Carruthers takes a more detailed and critical view than Bell and James of Toussaint’s decision to maintain a plantation economy. Bell called Toussaint’s labor policy “draconian” (206). James was more sympathetic, writing that Toussaint was “battling with the colossal task of transforming a slave population after years of license into a community of free laborers and he was doing it the only way he could see”(242). In this single scene, the film shows how Toussaint’s plantation economy was both “draconian” and “battling.” Carruthers wrote that Toussaint’s colony was “simply more a humane version of the colonial order…the success of his enterprise…depended on the recognition of legitimacy by Europe if not by France” (56, 57). Carruthers’s history suggests that this dependence on European legitimacy also evidences Toussaint’s betrayal of Boukman’s revolutionary principles. The film makes this same suggestion.
In his most controversial act as a French general who now lives in a mansion, Toussaint tells Sonthonax that he wants the whites who owned the plantation to return to their plantations in Saint Domingue. Bell writes that on November 15, 1798, Toussaint issued a proclamation that required all the able-bodied Blacks in the colony who were not attached to the army to return to work for wages on the plantation (B168). Carruthers writes that after learning about this proclamation, the masses of Blacks felt betrayed (C58). Bell includes, from French General Pamphile de Lacroix’s history, an anecdote of an exchange between Bayon who, after this proclamation, returns to his plantation and tries to assume the same colonial relationship with Toussaint that he had before his military successes.
“He [Bayon] ran there, and wanted to throw himself into the arms of the one who people everywhere said was his benefactor; but this benefactor recoiled, and cried out in a solemn voice, so that all the world could hear him well: Go easy, Monsieur Manager—today there is a greater distance between me and you than there was in the old days between you and me. Return to Habitation Breda; be firm and just; make the Blacks work well, so that the success of your small interests will add to the general prosperity of the administration of the first of the Blacks, of the General in Chief of Saint Domingue” (Bell, 201; Lacroix, 240).
The film dramatizes this exchange between Bayon and Toussaint. The film underscores the higher level of urgency and pressure that Toussaint faces after he issues this proclamation. While his former plantation owner Bayon is satisfied that his control of the Breda plantation is restored, Toussaint becomes increasingly dissatisfied with the resistance to his proclamation. When Breda tries to congratulate him, Toussaint says “everything is different, sir.” Toussaint says to Sonthonax that he should not start a race war between Blacks and whites, and, in an English translation that borrows a phrase from Marcus Garvey says: “from now on, we are masters of our own destiny.” Like Marcus Garvey, Toussaint successfully masters his own destiny by dictating an army under his control to benefit not only landowning whites but Black laborers as well. Garvey’s philosophy of “Africa For the Africans” applies to how Toussaint intended to use the plantation economy to the benefit of Black laborers. James writes that Toussaint first saw an exact inventory of the resources of sugar and coffee, “then demolished the numerous duties and taxes which were only a source of fraud and abuses” (245). He dictates his servant Mars Plaisir to write a letter to Napoleon. Toussaint says it is the fifteenth letter without a response but Mars says it’s the seventeenth letter without a response. Pasquier asks Toussaint to give him something to tell Bonaparte about. In a flashback, Suzanne tells Toussaint that he has too many enemies, and that is why she is hesitant to leave the countryside. She is a character who, like Fatimah, represents the revolutionary spirit of the people, and becomes more hesitant to associate with her husband Toussaint the more he climbs into the French military hierarchy.
In a conversation with Laveaux, Toussaint tells him that Bonaparte does not want a Black general in power. Toussaint asks Pasquier: “why is the White Eagle allowed to do what the Black Eagle isn’t?” The film shows some hostility between Toussaint and Sonthonax who, according to Toussaint, should have stayed in Paris and “tended to his garden” rather than come to Saint Domingue. When the French government choose to replace Sonthonax, Toussaint asks Laveaux to protect him. Laveaux tells Toussaint that Rigaud and the Mulatto Army he leads plans to kills him. Rigaud believes, and is quoted by the film and James as saying that Europe belongs to the whites, Guinea to the Blacks, and Saint Domingue to the Mulattoes. He is clear that his interests lie not in allying himself with Toussaint but more with the French government. The film shows how French leaders like Sonthonax and Lacroix stoke this hostility between Blacks and mulattoes. James wrote about how French Commissioner Hedouville encouraged Rigaud to see himself differently from Toussaint. Mars Plaisir writes a dictation from Toussaint telling Napoleon that Rigaud and his Mulatto Army had declared war with him. Toussaint was set up in Le Cap as Governor and left his wife in the fields with the fellow laborers.
The dinner party scene in the Governor’s mansion puts all of Suzanne’s anticolonial reservations on display. When Suzanne says she feels out of place in Toussaint’s mansion residence, Catherine, the widowed planter approaches her next to Toussaint and asks to fill her glass, thinking she is a servant. Toussaint promptly corrects Catherine, saying that Suzanne is his wife, not a servant. When Catherine asks Toussaint to be her child’s Godfather, Toussaint’s reply is that “I am Black before I am Governor” captures the moral dilemma he faces within a government that refuses to see Blacks as humans. To underscore his point, he places his hand to shake before her young son who, in response, winces in fear. Toussaint apparently anticipating Catherine’s son’s response illustrates in this scene why pride in one’s African heritage must take precedence over service to the French government. This film shows how Toussaint was clever in his personal and public life, with the way he declared his loyalty to France while at the same time upholding African pride. This scene is based an anecdote that James cites from a French colonel in his history about a colonist who, responding to his proclamation to returning whites, asked Toussaint to be a Godfather to her son:
“Why, Madame, do you wish me to be godfather of your son—your approach to me has no other aim than to get me to give a post to your husband, for the feelings of your heart are contrary to the request that you make of me...Madame, I know the whites…If I accept, how do you know that when he reaches the age of reason, your son may not reproach you for giving him a Negro as godfather?...You wish your husband to get a post. Well I give him the employment that he demands. Let him be honest and let him remember that I cannot see everything, but that nothing escapes God. I cannot accept your offer to be godfather to your son. You may have to bear the reproaches of the colonists and perhaps one day that of your son” (261).
While Toussaint rejects the offer to be the child’s Godfather, he grants the colonial the post she wanted and uses his influence, in Hopkins’ words, “on the side of mercy.” Toussaint made those of the planter class like Bayon and Catherine feel comfortable enough to consider Toussaint a Godfather, yet not close enough to let them deny him or his wife their African humanity. The film shows a private dance that Suzanne and Toussaint share that highlights this humanity. Laveaux tells Toussaint that he refuses to bring the Constitution declaring abolition throughout the island that Toussaint has drafted. Henri Christophe informs Toussaint that Bayon has been killed by troops who were ordered by Moise. Upon arriving on the plantation, Toussaint sees that Catherine is hung from a tree. Toussaint interrogates a laborer as to who gave the orders to kill Catherine, and the laborer replies that it was Moise. Toussaint orders that the slave who followed Moise’s orders to kill Catherine be shot, and he is. After Toussaint confronts Moise about his orders to kill Catherine, Moise replies that all the whites must be killed because of how they killed his mother. Toussaint imprisons Moise who resents Toussaint’s use of his power. According to James, Moise “had no sympathy with Toussaint’s policy of reconciliation with the whites” but was “not anti-white” (278, 257). When Moise insults Toussaint’s soldiers including Dessalines, Dessaline grabs Moise and threatens to kill him, telling him that he is in jail because he never knew what it was like to be whipped. James writes that Dessalines was owned by a Black and that his body was “scarred with the strokes from the whip [who was]…a born soldier, soon to hold high command” (130). Here the film shows brilliantly the very real difference of revolutionary sentiment among Black men who were all fighting for the same cause. This spectrum of revolutionary beliefs among Black men is rarely seen in films intended for Western audiences. Both Moise and Dessalines believe in abolition, but the film shows an important difference in exactly the pace at which each wanted “libété.” We are led to believe Moise’s impulsive revolutionary instincts led to the murder of Catherine and consequently, his own imprisonment and death. Dessalines’ belief in abolition requires, like Toussaint, that he use “more haste, and less speed” than Moise. The film’s display of Dessalines as part of the firing squad that executed Moise supports Dessalines and Toussaint’s revolutionary vision of not killing white planters like Catherine and Bayon unless it was absolutely necessary. As Moise is being executed, the film shows a close up of the charm leaving Toussaint’s hands and falling to the ground. This is the same charm that Fatimah gave him and warned him never to let fall to the ground. Like Suzanne, Fatimah is the carrier of the revolutionary cause. The film suggests, to Angela Davis’s point, that the success of the revolution depends on the range and quality of female participation (Davis, 99). Toussaint’s neglect of Fatimah’s message to keep the charm off the ground, the same charm that embodies the spirit of what Jacob Carruthers’ called the spirit of the Irritated Genie, resulted in his decision to execute Moise and lose the support of the same laborers he was supposed to represent, before moving into a mansion provided by the French. The film suggests that Toussaint abandoned the revolutionary cause when he executed Moise. Both Carruthers and James make vociferous critiques against Toussaint for executing Moise. Bell is far less sympathetic to Moise and frames his murder as simply an opportunity for Toussaint to consolidate more power. Carruthers called Toussaint’s retaliation against Moise “repressive” (53). James wrote that “to shoot Moise, the Black, for the sake of the whites was more than error, it was a crime…it was as if Lenin shot Trotsky for taking the side of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie” (C53, J284). Hopkins very succinctly writes that Toussaint’s ruin was “due in great measure to his loyalty to France and his filial feeling for Bonaparte.” She calls his murder of Moise “a course [that] would have been beyond us of the present day and generation” (Dworkin, ed., 15). Carruthers writes that his reasoning was based on everything the French revolution taught him, and that his rejection of certain fundamental decisions, like the use of more diplomacy with Moise, was “dictated by a desire to share in the world created by the oppressors” (62). The film shows how Suzanne shared no desire to share in such a world, especially when she carries Moise’s executed body from the gallows into the country. She warns Toussaint that if he kills Moise that she would leave him and does exactly this. James paints a more detailed tragic picture of Toussaint when he writes:
“The man into which the French revolution had made him demanded that the relation with France of liberty, equality, fraternity, and the abolition of slavery without a debate, should be maintained. What revolutionary France signified was perpetually on his lips, in public statements, in his correspondence, in the spontaneous intimacy of private conversation. It was the highest stage of social existence he could imagine…If he was convinced that San Domingo would decay without the benefits of the French connection, he was equally certain that slavery could never be restored. He…became the embodiment of vacillation. His allegiance to the French revolution and all it opened out for mankind in general and the people of San Domingo in particular, this had made him what he was. But this in the end ruined him” (290).
The film shows how the execution of Moise came as a result of his “allegiance to the French revolution” and to France. This allegiance was captured in scenes where Toussaint appealed to Bayon, to Sonthonax, to Laveaux, and to Catherine. However the film shows that Toussaint could not appeal to these elite French forces and be faithful to the revolutionary cause taught by Boukman and Fatimah. It was this allegiance that eventually proved stronger than the kind of leadership that Saint Domingue needed. He cared and worked incredibly hard to earn the trust of Black laborers on Saint Domingue, but his allegiance to the French eventually did not allow him to keep that trust. The film shows how Toussaint wanted the power that Napoleon had. In the next scene, Toussaint when asked about his fight with Bonaparte for military control of Saint Domingue, asks Pasquier in French: “why is the white eagle allowed what the Black eagle isn’t?” James writes Toussaint was hoping that if he defeated General Leclerc, Bonaparte would see reason and the valuable connection with France would be maintained (329). To James’ earlier point, and to the point of the film, this did not happen. While we do not see General Leclerc in person in the film, he is mentioned as a last, formidable military foe of Toussaint’s. Toussaint wrote a letter to Napoleon assuring him of his devotion to his orders while at the same time writing how Leclerc had disobeyed his orders. About this letter, James writes a summary of its influence that symbolizes Toussaint’s overall relationship with the French: “it was magnificent diplomacy but ruinous revolutionary policy” (325). The film shows Toussaint’s desire to be respected by Napoleon and to avoid bloodshed, however the struggle to become a French colony without slavery was a battle that forced him to “vacillate” and neglect the revolutionary cause.
Eventually General Caffarelli orders that the trusted servant of Toussaint, Mars Plaisir, leave his side. By this time we have a clearer picture about how Toussaint ended up in a prison in Fort-de-Joux, France. James writes that:
“[Napoleon] Bonaparte decided to kill him by ill treatment, cold and starvation...his gaolers humiliated him by giving him a convict’s clothes to wear, cut down his food, and when the winter came, reduced his allowance for wood; they took away his servant” (363).
The film shows this “ill treatment” that amounted to what we would call now torture. Up to this point Mars is with Toussaint, but Caffarelli’s pathological desire for the treasure, which the film hints is nothing short of a figment in the psychotic imagination of Caffarelli, becomes the source behind orders for Mars to leave Toussaint. In a horse carriage that is carrying Mars away from Toussaint, Caffarelli asks Mars for the location of this elusive “treasure.” When Mars replied that he didn’t know, Caffarelli tells Mars he may leave the carriage, but, as Mars leaves, Caffarelli shoots him in the back, and repeats a gesture symbolizing the French approach to ending slavery in Saint Domingue. Caffarelli’s murder of Mars demonstrates for this film audience the necessary level of distrust between military leaders of former slaves like Toussaint and the French military. James provides countless examples in history of how the Spanish, British, and most often the French betrayed their promise to Toussaint and the Blacks to end slavery in a manner similar to how Caffarelli was shown to betray both Toussaint and Mars. The perspective of Toussaint is made more sympathetic by this cold murder. It justifies the military attacks against French generals, most of whom cannot ultimately be trusted to ensure abolition on the island of Saint Domingue. After Plaisir is shot, we get a flashback of Toussaint’s sons returning home to Toussaint and Suzanne since leaving home for France on scholarship. Placide gives Toussaint a letter from Bonaparte, which Toussaint reads and promptly accuses Bonaparte of treating him like a child. This is one of the many examples that James provides of the ways that the French betrayed their promise of ending slavery. Napoleon would support the idea of abolition in theory, but in practice would send French generals and soldiers to enforce a return to slavery. When Toussaint vows to defend abolition on the island and asks if his sons will join him, Issac says that he will not take sides against France or his father. Placide is ultimately more sympathetic to the Toussaint’s revolutionary cause than Isaac. Placide vows to unconditionally join his father, whereas Suzanne forbids either son’s involvement in Toussaint’s fight against Bonaparte. For her, the fight against an entrenched racist like Napoleon is not worth the life of any of her sons. Toussaint tells Pasquier that Crete-a-Pierrot produced a lot of deaths but Leclerc kept losing. Carruthers wrote that “no event characterized the spirit of the Irritated Genie more than Crete-a-Pierrot,” where countless of French troops lost their lives fighting armies led by Toussaint and Dessalines (65). The French recognized that, according to Toussaint, the war against Saint Domingue has no military solution. The U.S. discovered this in their military excursions in Vietnam and Afghanistan. Michael Hastings’ reporting of General Stanley McChrystal saying that basically there is no military solution in Afghanistan resulted in a change of guard that simply postponed the inevitable that caused more American deaths to be lost in the process. The film suggests that Toussaint was in a similar position, and relinquishes his position in the French military in order to prevent a civil war between France and his forces, some of whom like Henri, tragically joined the French. Pasquier asks prison officials what could be done to prolong the life of Toussaint, but the audience discovers the low regard the French had for Toussaint, when dialogue exposes that the doctor who was treating Toussaint is not a medical doctor but in fact a veterinarian. Toussaint said that Pasquier is friendlier than Leclerc who invited him to dinner yet turned over his sister’s grave to look for this supposed treasure. Napoleon gave orders to have Toussaint and his family arrested and kidnapped. It was Napoleon and Leclerc, and not Laveaux, who was responsible for Toussaint’s eventual kidnapping. Carruthers writes that “the simplicity of the French trap [to kidnap him] reveals that Toussaint was still hypnotized by the Phantom of Liberty” (70-1). For Carruthers, part of the reason he was kidnapped was because he still believed “the fantasy that whites would accept Blacks as equals” (71). About his forcible removal from France, Toussaint said in the film “in removing me, they have cut down the tree of liberty,” but “it will regrow by the roots which are deep and many.” When Toussaint was kidnapped he was no longer master of his destiny, very much like the U.S.’s deportation of Marcus Garvey, who like Toussaint in his Black nationalist beliefs embodied the importance of being a master of one’s destiny. At the end of the film, Toussaint promises to tell Pasquier the location of his treasure. A last scene shows Toussaint struggling to put a log of wood in a fire, and calling Saint Domingue “his beloved country.” Pasquier tells Louise that, after being inspired by Toussaint and paying his respects at Toussaint’s unmarked grave, he has declined his promotion from Caffarelli. Pasquier brings the French army the elusive “treasure” box they prized so dearly. When they open it, they discover the bracelet that Fatimah delivered from Boukman to Toussaint. The French Army sees no value in the bracelet that for Fatimah represented the revolutionary spirit. The film suggests that Toussaint, yet again, imputed undeserved good faith in the French Army by disclosing the real treasure of the revolution, the bracelet that symbolized revolutionary zeal, which Toussaint dropped and symbolically lost by deciding to execute Moise. Toussaint’s biggest treasure was seeing libété on his island home. He was able to fulfill what he read about in Abbe Raynal’s Histoire Des Deux Indes. Libété is something that does not have the same value for the French Army and Bonaparte as it does for Toussaint. However, Toussaint was very honest in telling Pasquier the location of the actual treasure. The French were anticipating material items that were worth some high value in their currency. What was valuable to Boukman and Fatimah was deemed worthless by the French and, after all their material trappings part of the “phantom of liberty,” ultimately Toussaint. The most valuable treasure in this film was the desire for libété from French colonialism. This libété came when one relinquished the white god in exchange for the Vodou gods who guide those who are committed to real revolution. These gods, like Papa Legba and Erzulie, appear in this film and are either called by name or shown. Jacob Carruthers’ history guided this way and also details how Dessalines’ fidelity to this value and this revolution produced an indepdendent Haiti in 1804. He writes: “After Dessalines completed Haitian independence, Europeans were forever barred from landownership until the American invasion 110 years later aided and abetted by Haitian traitors” (96). C.L.R. James writes that “Dessalines was a one sided genius, but he was the man for the crisis not Toussaint. Neither Dessalines’ army nor his ferocity won the victory. It was the people…those Black Haitian laborers and the mulattoes have given us an example to study” (361, 375). Frederick Douglass said that “the everyday Blacks of the island nation are imperiled by unrepresentative elite countrymen and their white American collaboration” (131). The film raises the perilous foreign policy of Europe and America towards Haiti today. Toussaint mentions the United States in his responses to Pasquier when he tells them that the country only negotiated with Saint Domingue to serve their own interest. Histories of Haiti by Frederick Douglass and Jacob Carruthers highlight the role of the elite in Haiti playing a “destabilizing” role in the country. The United States recently their military’s “Special Forces” to Haiti to kidnap then democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. However this could not have been accomplished without the appeal to the United States by the Haitian elite. For Carruthers, these elite fit his description of being “Haitian traitors” due to their ultimate deception by the “phantom of liberty.” Randall Robinson writes that former Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue rescinded an application that Jean-Bertrand Aristide, made to France for $21 billion that Haiti had been forced to pay France for about a century in reparations following the Haitian revolution. Robinson writes that the reward for this loyalty to France and the United States, Florida Republican Representatives Mark Foley and E. Clay Shaw Jr. introduced House Resolution 941, “Honoring the service of Gerard Latortue, Haiti’s interim prime minister” (254). The independent nation is still dealing with leaders who differ wildly in their loyalty to France, but private American and French interests capitalize on this elite loyalty in order to continuously destabilize the masses and betray Boukman’s revolutionary principles. The Resource Center quoted the president of the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce, then Stanley Urban, who said: “I honestly believe that a dictatorship is the best form of government for these people [Haitians]. There are six million illiterates on that island. Think what the Ruskies could do there” (Tom Barry, Beth Wood, Deb Preusch, 68).
While Toussaint’s aspirations for the end of slavery have been accomplished, Haiti, like many nations who achieved their independence by a force of arms, still fights foreign economic control by military-imposed destabilization. This film sheds light on the failure of using a long term military solution in addressing foreign policy differences. It also shows the indomitable will of leaders like Toussaint whose greatest treasure was seeing freedom for his fellow countrymen. The same forces, such as the “phantom of liberty” that threatened Toussaint continues to threaten Haitian independence today, and deceives “elite countrymen and their white American collaborators” into supporting coups that displace democratically elected leaders like Aristide. This force is the “phantom of liberty” that deceives African people into believing their liberty can only come with the material or financial benefit from Europeans. Bell completely ignores the role of the United States in promoting destabilization of Haiti. In his 1962 appendix to The Black Jacobins, James’ critiqued the leadership of twentieth century Haitian Prime Minister Duvalier, calling him “the uncrowned king of Latin American barbarism…It is widely believed that despite the corruption and impertinence of his regime, it is American support which keeps him in power: better Duvalier than another Castro” (409). In speaking from an elite American perspective fearful of revolutions like Fidel Castro’s, James highlights the role of the United States in destabilizing Haiti in ways that France did in this film, in order to maintain a European colony. The dependence of the film on funds from French producers again underscore Carruthers’ point that Toussaint's enterprise “depended on the recognition of legitimacy by Europe if not by France.” However this view of Toussaint is a necessary cautionary tale about the “phantom of liberty.” Jacob Carruthers wrote that “the Europeans learned much from the Haitian revolution. They did not learn the ultimate truth that the African people will never be permanently enslaved or oppressed” (111).
Barry, Tom, Beth Wood and Deb Preusch. The Other Side of Paradise: Foreign Control in the Caribbean. New York: Grove, 1984.
Bell, Madison Smartt. Toussaint L’Ouverture: A Biography. New York: Vintage, 1987.
Carruthers, Jacob. The Irritated Genie: An Essay on the Haitian Revolution. Chicago: The Kemetic Institute, 1985.
Davis, Angela. “Reflections on the Role of the Black Woman in the Community of Slaves,” Massachusetts Review. 13(1/2), Winter-Spring 1972, p.81-100.
Douglass, Frederick. “Lecture on Haiti, The Haitian Pavilion Dedication Ceremonies Delivered at the World’s Fair, in Jackson Park, Chicago, Jan. 2d, 1893,” in African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected Essays and Historical Documents. Maurice O. Jackson and Jacqueline Bacon, eds. New York: Routledge, 2010, p.202-211.
Dworkin, Ira, ed. Daughter of the Revolution: The Major Nonfiction Works of Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins. New Brunswick: Rutgers, 2007.
Hansberry, Lorraine. Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays. Edited With Critical Backgrounds by Robert Nemiroff. New York: Vintage, 1994.
Hansberry, Lorraine. To Be Young, Gifted, and Black. Adapted by Robert Nemiroff. New York: Vintage, 1995.
Jackson, Maurice O. and Jacqueline Bacon, eds. African Americans and the Haitian Revolution. New York: Routledge, 2010.
James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1963.
Robinson, Randall. An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of A President. New York: Basic, 2007.
"Let all things be done unto edification." I Corinthians 14:26.
"Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction." II Corinthians 13:10.
is an independent writer and journalist born
of Jamaican immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, on October 12, 1979. He
moved to Florida in 1989 and graduated from Zephyrhills (FL) High School
in 1997. He graduated from Yale University in 2001, after which time he
taught in the public school systems in New Haven (CT) and the Bronx for
three years. He then began writing independently and finished a
documentary play on the life of Fannie Lou Hamer entitled, "Living
Sacrifice," for which he still seeks publication. He earned his Ph.D. in African American
Studies from Temple as of August 31, 2012. His dissertation was a literary and historical analysis of Pauline Hopkins, A. Philip Randolph and Paul Robeson. He also is a freelance editor and radio producer, and is currently producer of WPEB's Freedom Readers on 88.1 FM in Philadelphia.